Cooler McCaffery, confident Uthoff lead Iowa into Wisconsin showdown
IOWA CITY, Ia. – As positive momentum swirls around Iowa basketball, the next curiosity becomes how long it can be sustained.
The Hawkeyes are at a high point for the season. They're 13-5 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten Conference – a half-game out of first place. They're ranked (25th) in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since March 3. They're projected as a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament by CBS Sports guru Jerry Palm.
But on deck is perhaps the most challenging game of the 18-game Big Ten season – at No. 6 Wisconsin (16-2, 4-1) at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN.
Students are back in Madison, which wasn't the case Jan. 5, 2014, when it already was hot enough inside the Kohl Center. That's when Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was famously ejected and later suspended for a game after receiving two technical fouls and bumping an official in a 75-71 loss.
When Tuesday's ESPN telecast unfolds, McCaffery's ejection almost certainly will be revisited. But the narrative also could include that the fifth-year Iowa coach is technical-foul-free this season.
So, with Iowa back in a national-spotlight game comes this season's third installment of what we know and what we don't about Hawkeye hoops:
We know: The half-court offense, a favorite knock of critics during nonconference play, is functioning at its highest level of the season. The improvement can partially be traced to 6-foot-6 guard Peter Jok's insertion to the starting lineup.
"We're screening a lot better. Our spacing's a lot better," point guard Mike Gesell said of Iowa's recent half-court game. "When we get out and run, we're not necessarily running to score all the time, too. We're running to keep pressure on the defense."
Of the 47 points Jok has scored in six starts, 39 are in the first half. Iowa has led those six games at halftime by 13, 12, seven, 11, 11 and 11 points.
We don't know: If the left (non-shooting) hand injury Jok suffered just before halftime of Saturday's Ohio State win will limit him. He practiced Sunday and is listed among the Tuesday's probable starters, but only played seven minutes and took two shots (both misses) in the second half vs. the Buckeyes.
We know: Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff has a more prominent role now against Wisconsin than he did a season ago, when he scored six points in each meeting. Uthoff, a 6-foot-9 junior, was Big Ten player of the week after wins at Ohio State and vs. Nebraska, then hit a game-winning shot at Minnesota.
His transfer from Wisconsin became a national story when Badgers coach Bo Ryan put severe limitations on what schools Uthoff could attend.
"I practiced on that floor for a year. … I redshirted, but I went to every game," Uthoff said. "(It'll be) a little different."
We don't know: What Bo Ryan really wants to say about Uthoff. Ryan was asked twice about Uthoff during Monday's Big Ten teleconference, but offered more general answers on player improvement.
"For coaches, that's the way it's supposed to be," Ryan said. "Guys are supposed to develop and get better at things. Jarrod's no different than anybody else in the league. That obviously helps your team when you have guys that do that."
We know: McCaffery regretted playing freshman Dom Uhl just one second-half minute vs. the Buckeyes. Uhl's five first-half points were beauties – a sweet baseline reverse lay-in and a 3-pointer without hesitation – and a possible glimpse of what's to come when Aaron White is gone.
"I've just been really proud of how he's sort of plugged away at getting better," McCaffery said, "and kept believing in himself."
We don't know: When his buddy, Trey Dickerson, will get back on the floor. Dickerson, a sophomore point guard, hasn't played a Big Ten minute this season.
"Trey is getting closer to being ready to be a guy that could impact our team," McCaffery said.
We know: Iowa is 3-0 in true road games.
We don't know: If it'll be 4-0 by late Tuesday night. Statistics guru Ken Pomeroy projects Iowa to lose by 10.
TUESDAY'S GAME: IOWA (13-5, 4-1) at WISCONSIN (16-2, 4-1)
Specifics — 8:05 p.m. CT, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.
Following the game — TV: ESPN. Radio: WHO (1040 AM), WMT (600 AM) and the Hawkeye network. Sirius/XM Channel 84. Live scoring: hawkeyesports.com.
Preview — Wisconsin's lone losses came at home to Duke, at Rutgers — when it played without star center Frank Kaminsky (concussion) and lost star point guard Traevon Jackson to a foot injury. ... Jackson is likely out until early March, meaning Bronson Koenig is at the point. In the Badgers' first game without Jackson, they routed Nebraska 70-55 behind Kaminsky's 22 points. ... Iowa led by 11 at halftime in last year's game in Madison but lost, 75-71. The Hawkeyes have led by exactly 11 at halftime in each of their last three games.